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How to care for senior pets

How to care for senior pets

It’s easy to forget that our pets are ageing around seven times faster than us. Knowing what to look for, taking your pet for regular vet check-ups, and adjusting their diet and exercise regime are the best preventative steps to help keep your fury friends healthy and comfortable in their senior years.

Like us, our pet’s needs change as they get older. While each pet will start to move into the senior phase of their life at slightly different times, the age of seven when when most cats and dogs are considered senior.

It's also important to note that the rate of ageing depends not only on the species type but also on the size of the breed. For example, large dog breeds are considered to be a senior pet as early as 5 years of age, whereas some small dog breeds and cats are not considered senior until they are over 10 years of age.

Knowing when your pet is considered senior will help you support their changing health needs to get the best out of their golden years. To help you determine when your pet becomes a senior, speak to the team at your local Animates Vetcare clinic.

Signs of aging

As your pet ages, you may start to notice them slow down. Your pup no longer has endless energy and after a few rounds of fetch will need to take a break, while cats will start sleeping more and avoid rough play. Other things to watch for in senior pets include, weight gain, hesitation in getting up after a nap or difficulty navigating stairs, cloudy eyes, changes in toileting habits, not hearing commands, and slow movements. Then there are the internal signs we can’t see, like a slowing metabolism, dental disease, weakness and joint or bone diseases like arthritis.

Feeding an age-appropriate diet

Just as we give special attention to the nutritional needs of puppies and kittens, dogs and cats heading into their golden years require a high-quality senior pet food to maintain their quality of life. Consider switching their diet one that’s specifically formulated for senior dogs or cats

  • High-quality protein sources in greater amounts than adult maintenance formulas to support lean muscle mass
  • Appropriate caloric balance from fat and protein to maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Additional nutrients, like glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids to support joint health and mobility
  • Vitamin A and linoleic acid to support healthy skin and coat
  • Some senior pet food formulations may also include enhanced vegetable oils to promote alertness and mental sharpness in geriatric pets

top-to-tail tips | Make sure they're not competing for food  If you have other, younger dogs/cats in the house, make sure your senior pet can get to their food without having to compete.

When to switch to a senior-specific food?

Cats: Cats have an average lifespan of 12-18 years, with some living even longer, so once they hit the mature milestone (around 7 years old), it’s good time to think about shifting their diet to one that will support their ageing.

Dogs: While each dog will start to move into the senior phase of their life at slightly different times, the age of 7 is a time that sees many dogs hit their senior stride. Large and giant breed dogs can move into this phase a little earlier, while toy and smaller breeds will shift to the senior category a bit later in life. Of course, there will always be exceptions to this rule, but this can be used as a guide to help you decide when to switch your dog onto a senior-specific diet.

It’s always a good idea to see your local Animates Vetcare team before making any changes to your pet’s diet. They can evaluate your pet’s health and diagnose any problems that may impact the type of food your senior pet needs.

top-to-tail tips | Regular nail trimming. Senior dogs may need their nails trimming more often if they're exercising less. This is something your vet can do for you.

Modified exercise regime

Your senior pet may not be able to play for as long or as hard as they used to, but regular exercise and mental stimulation is still crucial for a healthy pet! Regular moderate exercise helps to maintain muscle mass and keep your senior pet’s joints mobile.

Senior dogs benefit from regular low-impact exercise such as daily 20-minute walks. Providing chew toys and puzzle feeders are also great for mental and physical stimulation. Similarly, cats will benefit from regular play to keep their bodies supply and injury-free. A brown paper bag that crinkles is exciting for cats, or hide small treats in a rolled up paper towel.

Adjusting their environment

Making small adjustments to your pet’s home environment can assist them as they start to show signs of ageing. Things to consider when living with a senior pet include:

  • Providing easy access to food and water, by placing extra water bowls around so your pet doesn’t have to move far for a drink.
  • Keep them warm in winter. Just like humans, a pet with arthritis may stiffen up during the winter months. You can manage this by keeping them warm indoors and protected from the elements outside. Consider adding a heat pad in their bed at night to provide up to 10 hours of long lasting warmth.
  • Update their bed. Because your pet’s joints and bones will be more susceptible to arthritis and injury, it’s important to provide them with a bed that suits their needs. Orthopaedic pet beds provide a denser form to help cushion your senior pet’s aging body, and some can even be outfitted with a heat and/or vibration system, which increases circulation and reduces stiffness.
  • Provide extra litter trays and those with low sides that are easier for senior cats to get into.
  • Make your home easier to navigate. Climbing up stairs and walking slippery surfaces like hardwood or tile floors can be difficult or even dangerous for some senior pets. If your pet has trouble navigating these, try relocating their food, kennel and other necessities to a place that doesn’t require the use of stairs or slippery surfaces to access them. You can also add traction to stairs or hallways with rubber mats or carpet runners, which may help your older pet move around more easily.

Improved dental care

As pets age, their bone density and dental health can deteriorate. Special dental diets, teeth brushing, and dental treats are all great ways to prevent dental disease. However, if you do notice any changes in your pet’s teeth, gums, or breath as they get older, bring it up with your vet. Regular dental health checks by your vet will catch anything you may have missed.

More frequent check-ups

As your furry friend ages, regular veterinary check-ups become more important than ever. Visiting your vet twice a year will help detect any age-related disease and allow treatment to be instituted early, in turn providing better outcomes. Most importantly, remember to tell your veterinarian about any noticeable change in your pet’s physical condition or behaviour – as it may be a sign of underlying issues, not just down to old age.

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